Teen Collective participants

Mercy Housing Lakefront Youth Shines in Art and Leadership Program

“I am most proud of how much I’ve grown in the art program.”

When you first meet 15-year-old Syrianna “Siri,” you might think she is a typical high school student. But talk with her for just five minutes, and you’ll learn that she’s getting ready to set the world on fire. “I’ve been planning my future out since I was in 6th grade! When I get older, I want to do a lot of things,” said Siri.

Siri is an avid reader and lover of books. “In fourth or fifth grade, I started getting interested in reading and writing. I’ve always enjoyed books by Laurie Halse Anderson. My two favorite books are “Speak” and “What They Don’t Know.” They both deal with social issues.” Siri also enjoys brainstorming ideas for her own stories. “I’m currently working on a time travel story!” Siri shared with excitement.

Siri and her family are longtime residents of Lavergne Courts, a Mercy Housing Lakefront community located in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. In addition to having an affordable home, Siri has benefited from many of the programs and services offered by Mercy Housing Lakefront and its partner organizations, including a collaboration with Holy Family Schools that enabled Siri and her family to receive case management, a rigorous academic experience, and quality after-school and
summer programming.

Siri (right) learns to screen print as part of WNG Teen Collective

Most recently, Siri has been an active participant in the WNG Teen Collective. The WNG Teen Collective is part of an ongoing partnership between Mercy Housing Lakefront and Weinberg/Newton Gallery, a non-commercial gallery with a mission to collaborate with nonprofit organizations and artists on social justice issues.

The WNG Teen Collective meets weekly to learn about and explore art and social justice, build community, grow their leadership and collaboration skills, connect with artists and activists, develop digital art skills, design public programs, and create new ways for the greater Chicago community to experience the programs at Weinberg/Newton Gallery.

“Our teacher, Ms. Lisa, gives us feedback and helps us with our projects. We did a home drawing project, where you draw where you live, your community, and your house. They had them displayed on the windows [of the Gallery],” said Siri. “My favorite memory is we had done screen printing for the home drawing project onto a tote bag and drawstring bags. That has to be my favorite part of the whole drawing project. It sounds really complicated, but once you start doing it, after the first few tries, you get into a rhythm.”

Throughout the pandemic, the Teen Collective met virtually, but for the past few months, they’ve been meeting at the gallery, where Siri was able to explore the Key Change exhibition. Key Change showcases various artists’ work highlighting housing injustices and solutions to those injustices.